Samoa is much more than just an excellent place to cycle. It has coral sand beaches with safe swimming and dramatic coral outcrops teaming with colourful tropical fish. Much of Savaii has a near subsistence economy with strong traditional customs such as mat and tapa cloth making. Fia Fias or dance nights in the small villages are events not to be missed.
Year round the daily maximum temperature is about 30°C and the overnight minimum seldom drops much below 24°C. There are no true wet and dry seasons, but May to October tend to be drier and Nov to April wetter. Cycling hills on a windless sunny afternoon can be unpleasantly hot. Riding in the mornings before 10am is often really pleasant and cycling through lunchtime showers with no coat - refreshing. Regardless of the time of year you are likely to have lots of mostly fine days, a good change of 2-3 wet days and almost certain to have an afternoon shower or two. Waterproof coats are seldom worn by the locals, they just enjoy the showers. An umbrella is a good idea for tripping between fales and dining room and bathroom etc.
The cyclone season is January to March, but cyclones average less than 1 per year.
Mostly sealed but pot holed roads circle the two main islands offering a total of about 400kms of riding. The speed limit outside the main town of Apia is 35mph (56kmh). In 2009 traffic changed to driving on the left. The speed limit is not particularly well observed, but the roads are heavily used by pedestrians and cyclists are generally given plenty of room. Other than the stretch between Apia and the airport/ferry terminal, traffic tends to be light and on Savaii you may only see a dozen vehicles an hour on some parts.
Despite being a coastal route, there are hills. The route around Savaii has a total of about 800m of climbing and it is about the same around Upolu.
Mountain or hybrid bikes with bigger volume tyres and front suspension are a better choice for the rough seal and occasional unsealed sections. Road/commuter style tread pattern tyres are a bit more efficient, but offroad tyres are fine.
We have a large hire fleet of bikes available, but you can take your own. New rules were introduced by both airlines in 2013:
- Air New Zealand will let you take a bike, despite being oversize- but it counts as part of your luggage. A boxed bike weighs about 17-20kgs. So on a typical 1 piece of luggage ticket you can carry another 3-6 kgs in checked luggage (within the bike box) and 7 kgs of hand luggage. If that is not enough you have to pay $NZ95 each way.
- Pacific Blue has similar rules but the price for the bike as a second piece of luggage is $40-$50 each way.
The bike must be packed in a bike bag or bike box. Poly Blue sell cardboard bike boxes from the airport for $15 or they are often given away by bike shops. Make sure you get your bike box several days before the trip. We have seen several bikes damaged when packed like this (bent chain wheels and brake discs and wrecked hydraulic brakes, so consider either a solid case (several hundred $) or having the bike packed by a bike shop (or save the hassle and hire a bike).
To fit the bike in the box the peddles, handlebars and wheels are removed and the handlebars removed.
Having spent years riding with cleats I did my first few circuits of Savaii in cleated cycle shoes. Now I ride with standard pedals and sandals with toe protectors. It is cooler and the rides tend to be more about exploring on frequent stops than about just riding.
Many villages offer fales (pronounced far-lays) as tourist accommodation. These are thatched roofed, matting sided, wooden floored beach huts. They are often in the most stunning settings and allow you to sit or lie on your bed and look out across the beach to the most amazing sunsets. Breakfast and dinner are usually included and served in a common dining room and the bathorroms are shared facilities. Mattresses, mosquito nets and bed sheets are included. I regard them as analagous to a permanent campsite and the more traditional ones like Falealupo are a highlight for me and almost everyone on our trips. Fale resorts are changing with the times and some offer lockable rooms, corrugated iron roofs, hot showers and ensuites. However the traditional units are often cooler and much more pleasant.
Hotels and upmarket resorts
These come in all shapes and sizes with all manner of reputations. Unfortunately they are not distributed to fit with a cycling tour and the very good ones are usually to full to want cyclists for 1 day visits while the poor ones are less enjoyable than the fales. We use several (see the itineraries) because they are conveniently located and usually offer something quite unique.
There are no camp grounds and generally camping is not worth while. There are no public beaches, as all beaches are communally owned by the local village. So if you are not staying in a resort or village fale you will be asked to pay for your camping spot. Tents tend to be too hot and not nearly as pleasant as a fale. So it just becomes easier, lighter riding and not much more expensive to stay in a fale and use the experience to interact with the locals.
What to Take
Samoa is always warm. This can be hard to remember if packing on a bleak winter day. A set of clothes to ride in (t-shirt and shorts) and a set of clothes for after riding (t-shirt and shorts) is a good start. Women should add a sarong and modest top (Samoa is very conservative and you may be reprimanded for displaying too much flesh in skimpy shorts and top anywhere but the resort beaches). Long pants and long sleeved shirt are a good idea to keep the mosquitos at bay in the evenings and are needed to visit the numerous churches. Waterproof coat is optional for riding but a coat or even better a brollie is great for moving around the resort in a shower.
Togs, towel, mask and snorkel should be considered compulsory for all (even if you have still to learn how to use a snorkel). Swim fins are highly recommended.
See the section above on bikes. If you are NOT hiring, do bring repair kit (there are almost no bike repair items available in Samoa) helmet and bike lock (all included with bike hire).
Samoa has a 240v supply with NZ/Australia style plugs. NZ phones sort of work, but data and even texting are unreliable/unavailable. A local sim card can be purchased for your NZ phone for 15 Tala and specials can mean up to 30min calls to NZ for NZ$4 c.w. Vodafone $4 per minute. Internet is available in a few places - but outside Apia is generally slow and expensive.
Our booklet on Cycling Samoa has a full discussion on all gear items and a gear list.
Samoan currency is the Tala, often abbreviated to WST (Samoa changed its name from Western Samoa to Samoa, but do not confuse it with American Samoa, a dependency of the US located 60kms to the east).
A Tala costs 60 to 70 NZ cents. Exchange rates vary hugely and the gap between buy and sell rates is larger than for most countries. On Savaii in particular you will need to pay for most of your expenses in Tala cash. The economy end resorts often do not take Visa or NZ$. The best rate for buying Tala are often at the airport on arrival (even at 2am). ANZ banks in NZ cities have much better rates than those at Auckland Airport.
There are ATMs that accept NZ cards in Apia, Salelologa and Manase. Rates are reasonable, but fees can be substantial.
Never travel anywhere overseas without at least Medical Travel Insurance. Client feedback indicates online deals from Tid.co.nz are competitive. SCTI.co.nz is often well priced, but two of my clients were very disappoined about a denied claim. Buy it when you pay out your first costs as it covers cancellation due to health issues.
There are no poisonous land snakes, spiders or scorpions or large preditory mammals. There is a giant centipede that (from personal experience) has a very unpleasant bite, but it is not fatal.
Malaria and yellow fever are not considered risks but dengue fever is present. Do use mosquito repellent at dusk and do sleep under the supplied mosquito nets or in mosquito proof rooms.
Many Samoans keep small dogs and they wander. The tourism authority has been shooting/speying strays and the problem is mostly under control. The guidebook has suggestions on managing dog concerns.
This is the biggest and most commonly seen issue. Drink plenty, always carry spare water and watch your companions. Coke and coconuts are incredibly refreshing, whatever your normal attitude to fizzy rubbish.
Food and Water Quality
Despite a solid program to supply safe piped water to all villages, tap water is often not safe to drink. Bottled water is cheap and available in all resorts and some villages. On escorted trips we take high quality filtration kits.
We have seen occasional incidences of upset stomach, but think this is seldom related to food. Swimming in the turtle ponds is strongly recommended against as the water is badly contaminated. Watching water quality will generally keep stomachs at optimal efficiency.
The hot climate keeps bugs alive and skin infections can quickly turn nasty - take a good antibiotic with you and know how to use it.
Warning - Apia Airport is a long way from Apia.
The international airport in Samoa (which Air New Zealand and Pacific Blue refer to as Apia) is locally known as Faleolo. It is about 40 minutes out of Apia near the ferry to Savaii (the best place to cycle).
If you are planning to cycle around Savaii (or Uplolu) it is better to stay the first night at the Airport Lodge Motel, 10 minutes from the airport. It is also where our bike hire centre is located (if you are bringing your own they will store the bike box/bag for you). That way you avoid start riding the next day on the busiest road in the country. From the lodge it is a 10 minute ride to the ferry or a great place to start riding around Upolu on quiet roads.
Air New Zealand and Pacific Blue have daily flights from Auckland that take about 3 and a half to four hours. Internet fares are sometimes available for under $NZ500 return, but prices rise in holiday periods and for short notice travel.
Our 10 day packages inclusive of bike hire, all accommodation, most dinners and breakfasts and a gear transport service start at $NZ1,100 pp.
These vary greatly depending on amount of alcohol consumed (beer is 6-8 Tala for a large bottle) and handicrafts purchased. Most attractions and sites are on village owned land and require payment of a small customary fee, usually 5-10Tala (included on escorted trips, worth allowing 10 Tala a day for all other trips). An allowance of 25 Tala a day can cover lunches and snacks. More information in the booklet.
We have published a book on cycling in Samoa. It is free with the package tours - or buy it for $10 plus P and P.
To be completed